Things to Consider When Giving Your Child a Cellphone

Group Of Young Children Hanging Out In Playground

How and when to give a child a cell phone of their own is a big decision for parents. The bulk of research suggests that the less screen time children have the better. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests having a family plan with set limits on screen use. Giving them a cell phone is putting a screen, often with a camera and the internet, in their pocket. Setting limits becomes that much more challenging.

I’ve met three-year-olds who have their own phones and tablets. That ownership seems young by any standards. In the United States about 10% of children have their own phone by five years old, and 65% by ten to twelve years old. As a mom, I wanted my children to be able to call home without having to ask permission when they started riding with other families often and spending the night away from home. This made sense to me at 12 years old, around 7th grade. Whenever you decide, here are a few things to consider:

  • Start with a limited phone – Our girls each started with a talk and text phone only for the first two years.
  • The phone belongs to the parent – We made this really clear from the beginning. We own the phone and are sharing it with them. It was understood that we’d check on their phone use, their calls and their texting once in a while. It isn’t an invasion of privacy if it’s part of the plan.
  • Only connect with people you know in real life – This rule applied to talk, text and chat in the beginning. It applies to Facebook and Snapchat now. It doesn’t apply to Twitter and Instagram, but we had a talk to make that decision as a family.
  • Talk directly about inappropriate talk, texts and pictures – If they are old enough to have a cellphone, they are old enough to have these conversations. Make your expectations and limits clear.
  • Good to get permission to add apps or have accounts – It’s helpful to be clear about what apps and accounts they may have, and the need for having permission before they add new ones.
  • Smart to have apps and accounts where they do – You don’t have to be connected to them directly (don’t have to be their friend or follower), but it’s smart to know how each works and what’s available there. I was mildly surprised by what’s available on Instagram.
  • Healthy to set daily screen free times and places – In our house this is all mealtimes, school hours and homework time unless it is specifically required.
  • Set a daily time to turn off – In our house this is 9:00pm on week nights and 11:30pm on weekends and vacations.
  • Safe to hold onto the NOT in their bedrooms rule – When families first started having desk top computers, a common rule was to not have the computer in a child’s room. For safety and for healthy sleep, this rule remains a good one for all screens.
  • Fine for child to be responsible for part or all of this – Some families decide to have their child pay for some or all of their phone service. Other families add weekly chores in exchange for the phone.
  • Either way, discuss staying within data limits and plan if they go over – It is helpful that everyone knows what the limits are, how to stay in and what happens (or who pays) if anyone goes over.
  • Of course, important to consider the individual child – This includes how well they follow rules, meet expectations, how responsible they are with belongings and how much difficulty they’re having managing peer pressure and social conflicts.

 

 

Ways to Encourage Independent Play

Mädchen spielt mit Puzzle

It can be difficult when your child seems to need a playmate all day. If you aren’t playing with them, they complain they are bored or just wander and whine. It is a good skill in life to be able to occupy your own time. Here are several ways to encourage independent play:

  • First, pinpoint any particular needy times and plan accordingly – If your child is an early riser and always in need of company at that time, or if they need to reconnect when parents first return home, don’t expect those to be times for independent play.
  • Set aside specific times TO PLAY – Some children worry that they won’t get anytime with you if they don’t follow your every move and ask to play constantly. Giving them a time they can count on may aleviate this worry. It helps some if this play is the same time every day (think the needy times), but it can be different as long as it is your priority.
  • Explain why you need the time – Even very young children may appreciate an explanation of what you will be doing. This can be as simple as, “mommy has a few calls to make. I need quiet for 10 minutes.”
  • Set-up for play – Preschool classrooms are set-up for play. There is a reading corner with bookshelves, beanbags and puppets. There is a kitchen area with a stove, sink, fridge, table, place settings and babies in cribs. These set-up areas encourage children in to play. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just think to make the play space inviting.
  • Create a space that builds on their interests – If your child is very into picture books, make a cozy reading corner that invites them in. Big beanbags, a low faceout book shelf, maybe a tape player for books on tape and a few related things like puppets. If your child loves trains, maybe a train table with lots of storage and a carpet with additional track.
  • Store toys and basic art supplies in view and within reach – Toys that are out of sight tend to be out of mind. If you prefer plastic bins, pick clear ones so kids can see what’s inside without dumping them out. Basic art supplies include crayons, paper, Play-doh or clay and water paints with brushes. If you are brave, this includes markers.
  • Store one type of thing per container – If you have bins or baskets, try to put just dress-up clothes in one and just balls in another. If you have a big toy box, add cardboard dividers so you have separate sections. When all kinds of toys are stored together, toys on the bottom are not played with and pieces tend to go missing more often.
  • Have specific areas for stored away toys – This means have a puzzle cabinet or a board game closet. While they may be out of sight, they are organized and together. Over time, your child will know where they are stored.
  • Start things with your child they can easily continue on their own – If your child is good at puzzles, maybe start a puzzle together and then take short trips away to “check on dinner” or, “change over the laundry.” Gradually make longer trips away.  When you do come back, each time comment, “you played so nicely by yourself,” or, “look, you got four more pieces done.”
  • Give your child things to do that are like what you are doing – If you are cooking, give them pots and pans with spoons and a bit of water, or let them “wash dishes” in the sink. If you are on the computer, give them their leap pad. They feel like they are doing something with you.
  • Set aside an independent play time each day – In the beginning independent play may go better if children are expecting it and they know how long it’s expected to last.
  • Provide more open ended toys – Closed ended toys have a built in end point. Open ended toys include dolls, blocks, kitchen and cooking sets, dress-up clothes and art supplies. Children use these toys in endless ways so the independent play may last longer.
  • Ask them their plan for play – If they often have trouble getting started ask them their plan or what they are going to play first. It may be easier for them to start once they have made a decision and have a focus.
  • Store some of your toys and then rotate – Many children have too many toys. When there are too many and toys just sit on the shelf, over time they become less interesting to children. The answer is to put half of the toys away in storage. When there are fewer choices, children tend to play longer and in deeper ways with the ones that are available. This also allows you to rotate toys which introduces toys as new without having to buy any. Rotating toys may be swapping half of what’s stored with half of what’s out every month or so.
  • Avoid filling their independent play time with TV and other screens – There can be a time for screens, but when you want your children to practice independent play, avoid them. Children watching screens are being otherwise occupied and not learning to play on their own.
  • Boredom is a good thing – Many parent worry about their children being bored when left to play alone. This boredom is what sparks creativity, allows children to explore their interests and leads to better quality independent play. It is good for kids to have real downtime. At a minimum think an hour a day of unstructured, just go play time. Time when they are in charge of what to do next.
  • Arrange playdates (if this is helpful) – Not really independent play, but once children are a bit older, they may want a friend to help spend their time playing away from you. You may have to have several playdates to find a mix of children that can play together nicely for long stretches. For others, the playdates are never really helpful. Some need more supervision on playdates, and there is no way you’d leave them alone. For more ideas about playdates, please read https://parentingbydrrene.com/2014/09/07/all-about-playdates/.
  • Give them more time – When children are bad at independent play, they often just need more practice.
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